It’s 2023 and the climate is in a free fall, or as Republicans labeled it: Going Through a “Change” and I am not even sure they would admit to that anymore. The whole country of Canada is in flames. The map looks like a matchhead art project.
We knew this might be an issue when we planned our trip to the Pacific Northwest, but if we could avoid the fires, the positive would be an area free of tourists.
We had been monitoring the situation on the ground as best we could and it seemed tenuous, but we did see a window and decided to make the trip. We had been dipping our toe into this "Home Exchange" concept. Similar to Airbnb, but no money trades hands, just points to be used at your own discretion on another property. Similar to a timeshare I guess. The positive is that the people are supposed to be much better behaved and respectful of your property. We had booked a few at our houses and used those points to reserve 3 separate houses from our trip out West.
Our plan was to fly into Seattle, rent a car and do a big loop Northwest of the city encompassing San Juan Islands, Whistler, Vancouver, Vancouver Island and then back to SEATAC for a redeye out.
Our flight from Detroit to Seattle was uneventful. The rental car is offsite, so that took some doing, but we were on our way by noon, boarding a ferry from Mukilteo to Whidbey Island.
Amy is keen on seeing wildlife, so that was our focus. Whether that be on a ferry or using a crosswalk downtown. Ferries are a way of life around here. Much like Subways in NYC. We parked our car on the main deck and walked up to enjoy the view. No wildlife on the short trip over to the island, but we were blessed with perfect weather. No smoke or rain. None for the entirety of the trip actually. When we drove off the ferry in Clinton, we headed to quaint town of Langley for lunch at the Saltwater Fish House and Oyster Bar
Walking down the street to the restaurant saw something comical happen. A lady was walking her 6 yo son, holding his hand and walked him right into a sign pole. He clanged off it and fell to the ground. She exclaimed, “Honey, you need to watch where your going!”
I had fish and chips and Amy had a fried oyster sandwich. We vowed to have fish for as many meals as possible out here. The same tactic we approach whenever within 5 miles of the ocean. They are a bit too proud to serve farm-raised Salmon around here, which was ok with us, so Sockeye Salmon was plentiful on the menus.
After lunch we stopped for coffee to deal with the time change and flight lag, before stopping by the Whidbey Farm for a chicken pot pie and dessert pie to have tonight in our Home Exchange.
We had plans to make numerous stops to hike at Ft Ebby and Deception Pass, but we were getting behind schedule. We did see something cool as we got closer to the rental. Lots of fighter jets were practicing take-offs and landings right over our heads. Apparently Whidbey has a Naval training base here and this is a constant thing. I am sure the other cars around us could tell we were tourists by our rubbernecking. Much like a person stops to look at a deer while locals fly by as it is probably the 100th they have seen this week. Speaking of deer, we had a couple that were residents right outside the home. Just standing there staring in to look at the new occupants. I did not take pictures.
After dropping our bags we walked down to the marina near Anacortes before sundown and settled in with dinner and an early night.
The next morning we took the ferry from Anacortes to San Juan Island, more specifically, Friday Harbor
We were experts now on ferry protocol. All these tourists around us who did not know the process! We got off and checked a few whale watching tours. They had one where you climb in a zodiac-style boat with all this cold weather survival gear and go out looking for whales for 4 hours. I instantly imaged what hour 3 would be like, sitting next to the family of 4 and instantly vetoed that one. Yes, you could get 10 ft closer to the whale but the lack of bathroom or personal space was a deal breaker. We found a large cattle call type boat that suited us fine. The type that offers fishing charters for 50 people and you each get a bamboo pole and hang it over the side.
With that settled we walked to an art gallery in town. I have always had a deep appreciation of pacific northwest Native art. I just like the colors, shapes and mediums. Everything in here was amazing. I was taking notes for my next arts and craft project. A lady came in behind us, “Is any of this art for sale, or just to look at?” Yes, this main street gallery is all just for show lady.
Lunch at Downriggers overlooking the harbor. Salmon sandwich and a shrimp melt sandwich. Both were good, but really I don’t complain about food much so you can’t really trust my recommendations if you are a foodie-type.
After lunch we walked our way over to the slip where our whale watch charter was docked.
The person at the counter told us we had a 95% chance to see a whale. That left me feeling pretty encouraged but was also it was a little anticlimactic. I wanted us leaning over the rail in the dense fog, yelling, “Captain, There she blows!”, instead of radio chatter from another boat telling us the coordinates and watching as 7 vessels all converge on the spot, jockeying for position.
Anyway, it was not long before a pod was spotted and we zoned in on them.
We followed the Alpha male, Jack, his sister and 2 cousins for a few hours. Amy enjoyed all of it, and with the naturalist on board we learned all about Orcas. There are whale watching tours that embark from all over this area, but they all end up in the same place, following the same whales, in the Juan De Fuca Straight.
Jack, also known as T137A, was a regular on these tours. You cannot track him on an app because they do not have tags on Orcas, but rather rely on spotting, which is fairly easy since the dorsal fin on these whales is quite unique.
After a while we peeled off and let some other boats get in tight, spending the rest of the trip visiting various seal and sea lion islands. I kept thinking how annoying this all must be for the whales.
The only downside of the cruise was our captains clock management. There were only 2 more ferries that left Friday Harbor that evening. One left at 3pm and one left at 630pm. We arrived back into harbor at 2:55, able to watch the 3pm ferry leave just as we scrambled to the dock
It would seem you would time your cruise to coincide with the ferry departures. But no, they missed it by 5minutes and everyone on the cruise had to sit and putz around the area for 3+ hours to catch the last ferry off the island. It was not a huge deal as we had no plans. We walked through more shops, checked out a brewery and had dinner.
It was dark by the time we got back to Anacortes
The next day we checked out and drove along the coast on Chuckanut Drive. Our plan was to stop for early lunch at Taylor Shellfish Farm for an early lunch, but it was foggy and they would not open for another hour.
Instead we just stopped at a Starbucks near the Canadian border for a break and then headed on into British Colombia. We had a long drive today. Up past Hope, into Fraser canyon and circling back towards Vancouver on Hwy 99, stopping short in the town of Pemberton.
Amy was still jazzed from the Orca experience but, along hwy 99 she got her eternal wish, a Grizzly Bear sighting. We drove by a Park Service truck that was honking its horn. Amy, yelled bear!, and I U-turned and tucked in behind the pickup. I am sure they were not thrilled with me as they were attempting to scare the bear away from a car, back into the woods.
After gnawing on their front fender for a bit, he moved back into the brush and we took off before the park service could give us a lashing. If that wasn’t enough, a few miles down the road, Amy sighted a Black bear swimming in the river. This of course led to an exuberance of confidence coming from her as she proclaimed herself the resident animal tracker.
Pemberton was a beautiful small town. Built up as the sprawl from nearby Whistler extended northeast along hwy99. The town looked like everything was brand new in the last 5 years.
The next day we drove down through Whistler. It was all blocked off for a bike race that started in Vancouver and ended here. We did find a short trail to hike in the area.
Our next stop was Squamish. I always wanted to stop here. I heard it was the alternative, poor man’s Whistler. It felt more down-to-earth, but you could tell that I missed my window as new construction was everywhere.
We had lunch at a local bar. I had Pulled jack fruit BBQ sandwich. Interesting. They have a lot of jack fruit on the menu around here. A staple back home in Thailand.
We carried on into Vancouver, checked into our hotel and walked along the harbor on a gorgeous late summer Saturday.
On into Chinatown to a well-reviewed Cambodian restaurant, "Phenom Penh". We had to wait in hour for a table at 4pm, but we had no place to go, so just sat outside a local market.
The next morning we boarded a ferry to Vancouver Island. Arriving at the port of Nanaimo. From there we drove a couple hours down into Victoria. I had been here about 9 years ago hiking the West Coast Trail. There was a ton more new high rise condos here. This city is in what’s called a “rain shadow”. Most off the rain coming off the ocean gets dumped on the west coast of the island or in Olympia NP on the American side. And with little snow it makes a great place to retire. I think this has helped drive all the new Condos. I still did not see a lot of industry here outside of tourism and government.
Once we checking into our Home Exchange we walked down to the water and stopped at Spinnakers for dinner. Our best meal of the trip. Sockeye salmon again!
The next morning we drove into town and had breakfast at an eclectic eatery. I started to recognize it, and realized I had eaten here on my last trip. I remembered it for all the Detroit memorabilia on the walls.
We spent the day at the IMAX and Canadian Heritage museum
We boarded a 3pm ferry to Port Angeles, back in the USA. Along the ferry ride, we spotted a humpback whale. I was the one who spotted it, so Amy kept her ego in check.
We arrived in Washington at 5pm, stopped for a beer and then spent the next 4 hours driving back to the airport, with about an hour to spare for our flight back home.
Trip went perfect. Weather was excellent and all the animals behaved properly, coming out on command for viewing.
Until Next Time,